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What does a Dock Worker do?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A dock worker, also known as a longshoreman, loads and unloads cargo from ships onto trucks or railroad cars and verifies its contents. He may use specialized heavy equipment to move the materials or do it by hand with the assistance of other dock workers. He may work as an independent contractor or be employed by a stevedoring, which unloads ships, or a shipping company.

As the shipments arrive in port, a dock worker is normally required to inspect the cargo and containers before he unloads them. He generally has a packing list for each shipment on which he notes opened containers, damaged goods or other discrepancies. A significant number of dock workers carry computerized handheld devices into which they enter this information. Knowledge of local and regional transportation rules is often required to properly complete the shipping and receiving paperwork.

If the person is loading a shipment for transport, he is normally required to be knowledgeable of packing procedures. These methods generally include properly stacking goods to prevent shifting during transport. He may also be required to sort the merchandise per the shippers’ instructions. Cables and ropes are normally used to secure the packages and containers.

To safely and efficiently transfer the containers between the ship and the transporting vessel, a dock worker commonly uses a winch. This equipment utilizes large pincers to securely grasp the containers and move them with ease and speed. Larger containers sometimes require slings to be placed around them for stability, a task normally performed by other dock workers. Smaller containers are generally moved using dollies, handcarts and pallet jacks.

Once the shipment has been loaded onto a truck or rail car, the dock worker ordinarily has the trucker or rail operator sign off on the shipment as being received and complete. This document normally releases the worker from any liability from that point forward. The trucker or operator then has sole responsibility to deliver the goods to the required destination.

Success in this position generally requires good physical health, stamina and strength. Attention to detail is typically required to authenticate shipments and their condition. Teamwork is frequently involved in this job. Math skills are often needed as well, to calculate container capacities and convert specifications to the local method of calculating weights and measures.

A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required to qualify for this position. Prior experience in cargo handling or warehouse operations is strongly preferred. Some areas may require dock workers to be certified to operate some heavy equipment.

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Discussion Comments

By jmiller2 — On Dec 12, 2013

Being able to obtain security clearance may also be necessary to become a dock worker. I know some dock workers who drove military tanks and Humvees onto a roll on roll off ship. Now that would be a sweet job.

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